Kevin Smith is not a great director. His early, low budget comedies have developed somewhat of a cult following, but I’ve failed to see the appeal. Even when I do enjoy one of his films, it tends to be because of the dialogue and the characters and not the overall make of the film itself. But I have to admit, the premise for his newest film, Tusk, had me really intrigued. The tale of a podcaster who is kidnapped by a Walrus obsessed Canadian native is so deliciously insane that I figured it would either be quite good or entertainingly terrible. But somehow Smith misses the mark completely and makes a film that’s just plain bad. It’s not as scary as it wants to be, it’s definitely not as funny as it wants to be and it’s mostly just an overlong bore.

Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) hosts a podcast where he and his friend Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) find strange people and proceed to ridicule them. Wallace leaves his girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) to travel to Canada and interview a teenager who chopped his leg off in a popular viral video. When Wallace arrives at the boy’s house, he discovers that the boy killed himself. Looking for someone new to talk to for his podcast, Wallace spots a handwritten note posted in a public restroom, one in which the author claims to have many interesting nautical tales. Wallace drives two hours out of his way to meet Howard Howe (Michael Parks) an old, disabled man living alone in a large mansion. After talking for a bit, Wallace is knocked unconscious and awakens to discover that Howard is holding him prisoner. If Wallace is unable to escape the confines of this psychotic man, Howard will turn him into his favorite animal: a walrus.

I really wanted to like Tusk. Its premise is completely outlandish, but it’s also a unique idea and it sounded like it could make an interesting film. Boy, was I wrong. Smith manages to take this intriguing premise (partly inspired by an episode of his SModcast) and turn it into a colossal waste of time. If you want to view this film from a comedic perspective, it’s simply not very funny. There were plenty of opportunities for some dark humor, but none of the jokes land successfully. Long and Parks do their best to generate some laughs out of the ridiculous material, but even their committed performances don’t elicit more than a slight chuckle. Even before Wallace meets Howard, Smith forces in so many obvious jokes, most of them at the expense of the entire country of Canada, that viewers will be immediately turned off.

You could also try to view this film through the lens of a disturbing horror film, but even then it’s unsuccessful because it’s neither disturbing nor scary. For a story that features a slow surgical transformation into a creature, there’s simply not enough disturbing imagery or suggestion of violence to make the experience frightening. Even worse, once Wallace is kidnapped by Howard, hardly anything exciting happens to move the plot forward. He doesn’t attempt to escape nor does he try to fight back. While scenes like these may be expected in a body horror film, they’re expected because they actually keep things interesting. Instead, Smith spends way too much time with Ally and Teddy as they search for the location of their friend and not enough time building suspense or tension within the movie’s central scenes. Although it may have received a lot of unwarranted negativity upon its initial release, 2009’s The Human Centipede (First Sequence) is a similar film that tackles this mutilation/creature horror genre far better than Smith’s effort.

In the past, Smith has had a knack for writing dialogue; but here, too many scenes are dialogue driven and most of these scenes fall completely flat. There’s nothing wrong with a dialogue heavy film, but a horror film about a man being transformed into a walrus probably isn’t suited for it. The characters are all unlikable or uninteresting, so their long and tedious conversations with one another do nothing but slow the movie’s pacing to a screeching halt. Despite having a run-time that’s less than two hours, the film feels way too long and it’s a result of an overabundance of talking, a lack of exciting suspenseful scenes and a number of scenes that could be edited down or cut from the film entirely. There are a number of flashbacks to previous events in the film and when they don’t feel totally superfluous, they feel way too heavy handed.

And then there’s the reveal of the creature itself. Had enough effort been put into the film, the walrus could have been a frighteningly disturbing image, one that would be seared into viewers’ brains for quite a while. Sadly, the creature looks horribly assembled, failing to generate either a scare or a laugh. James Laxton’s cinematography and Johnny Depp’s over-the-top performance are highlights of the film, but they don’t even come close to saving it. If Smith was attempting to make a comedy, he failed. If he was attempting to make a horror, he failed. If he was simply trying to make a so-bad-it’s-good film, he failed. Tusk has a truly great premise, but that’s pretty much all it has going for it.

Tusk receives 1/4

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